Expanding the U.S. Navy to 355 ships from its current plan for 308 ships, as backed by President Donald Trump, would cost approximately $26.6 billion a year for the next 30 years, according to a government report released on Monday.
In December 2016, the Navy released a new force structure assessment that called for a fleet of 355 ships - substantially larger than the current fleet of 275 ships and larger than the Navy’s previously stated goal of 308 ships. In response to a request from the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces of the House Committee on Armed Services, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the costs of achieving the Navy’s objective within 15, 20, 25, or 30 years and found that the earliest the Navy could achieve its goal of a 355-ship fleet would be in 2035.
Taking into consideration older ships being retired, boosting numbers to 355 would require the Navy to buy 329 new ships over 30 years, compared with 254 under its previous plan. This equates to 12 ships per year under the larger fleet plan, versus eight under the earlier plan.
The Navy’s new-ship construction is performed by five large and two smaller private shipyards. Ingalls Shipbuilding builds large surface combatants and amphibious warfare ships and Newport News Shipbuilding builds nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. Bath Iron Works builds large surface combatants, Electric Boat builds nuclear-powered submarines and NASSCO builds combat logistics and support ships.
The two smaller shipyards are Fincantieri Marinette Marine, which builds the steel monohull variant of the littoral combat ship, and Austal USA, which builds the aluminum trimaran version of the littoral combat ship as well as the expeditionary fast transport.
Enlarging the fleet to 355 ships would place a higher demand on the shipbuilding services of those seven, and possibly other, shipyards. To meet demand, all seven shipyards would need to increase their workforces and several would need to make improvements to their infrastructure. Building more submarines would pose the greatest challenge.
The workforces across those yards would need to increase by about 40 percent over the next five to 10 years. Managing the growth and training of those new workforces while maintaining the current standard of quality and efficiency would represent the most significant industrywide challenge, says the CBO.
The larger fleet would require more civilian and uniformed personnel and more aircraft, pushing up overall operating costs, the CBO said. According to CBO’s estimates, the combat ships of a 355-ship fleet would need crews totaling about 125,000 sailors, an increase of 18 percent over today’s Navy
According to CBO’s analysis, by 2047, the annual cost in 2017 dollars of operating the Navy’s 355-ship fleet would be about $38 billion (or 67 percent) more than the $56 billion the fleet of 275 ships costs annually to operate today.
CBO’s projection of the steep increase in operating costs by 2047 results both from having a larger fleet and from the expectation that operation and support costs would grow faster than general inflation in the economy. Under the smaller buildup proposed in the Navy’s 2017 shipbuilding plan, annual costs would also rise by 2047 by about $23 billion.
The report is available here.